Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Origins of the Turkish Cypriots

As it is known, Turkmen tribes established the Ottoman Empire. As it arose as a third power between Eastern and Western cultures, the necessity of founding a progressive order also arose. While the Ottoman administrators demonstrated the need to increase tax incomes and agricultural production, the Turkmen tribes of Anatolia and Syria protested against settlement plans as they were adjusted to a nomadic lifestyle.

The region of Transoxiana (Maveraünnehir), the Turkmen
place of origin before migrating to Anatolia
This conflict between rulers and tribes was typical of the Ottoman Empire until the year 1856. Evidently, this conflict fuelled many of the themes found in the folkloric works of great Turkmen literates such as Karacaoğlan, Dadaloğlu, Pir Sultan Abdal and Dede Korkut and this remained seemingly unchanged ever since their days in Transoxiana (Maveraünnehir) . As a result of their refusal to conform, Turkmens lived closed-off from mainstream society in the mountains for many centuries. This allowed them to preserve their nomadic lifestyle and traditions, particularly in folkloric beliefs, poetry and music.

It could be said that this conflict represented a struggle between two worlds; the first being the nomadic way of being free to live as one pleases, the second being the inevitable conditions required in building a civilisation. On one hand, therefore, the Ottoman Empire can be accused of infringing upon human rights, but on the other hand it would have been impossible for any kind of orderly civilisation to arise out of nomadic confederates, nor could they have been expected survive forever. However, this struggle did linger on for centuries (and there are still some nomadic Turkmen tribes in the Toros mountains today), but in 1856 the Ottomans formed an army specifically tasked to settle Turkmen nomadic tribes by force. This settlement policy, called Şenlendirme, distributed newly acquired lands to specifically to Turkmen tribes.


The 'Ferman' document issued by Sultan Selim II
ordering the settlement of Turkmens to Cyprus
After the conquest of Cyprus in 1571, in accordance with this settlement policy, Turkmens were sent to the island in two waves. The first wave began in 1572 and continued until the end of the sixteenth century, the second began in 1699 and continued until 1745. A document dated on the 20th of September 1572 issued an order by Sultan Selim II to the governors of Anatolia, Karamania, Dulkadiria and Rum provinces to select citizens possessing a lack of fertile land, unregistered people and those known as ‘rebels’ (all three criteria befitting to nomadic Turkmens) to be sent to Cyprus. Additionally, ten percent of the industrial workforce was to accompany them.

Above all these provinces were originally Turkmen principalities, known as beyliks, which had only recently agreed to collaborate with the Ottoman Empire. Firstly, the Dulkadiria province was occupied by the Yüreğir and Kınık tribes, as well as some independent clans known as the Dulkadiria Ulusu. Furthermore, Karamania consisted of the Bozdoğan tribe. All of these were descendents of the Üçoklar branch of the Oğuz Turks. Descending from the Bozoklar branch, the inhabitants of the Rum province were from the Beğdili and Bayat tribes. As for the Anatolian province, it was commonly known by the words of the twelfth century traveler Ibn Batuta as Turkmen Yatağı, the ‘bed of Turkmens’.

As well as this first order, a further two orders written in 1576 and 1577 were found addressed to the governor of Bozok (modern day Yozgat) demanding the extradition of Turkmens suspected of supporting Iranian leader of the Kızılbaş Alevi sect Shah Ismail Saphevi. Another order from the same year was sent to the Bozdoğan tribe exiling the Ramazan family and their supporters to Cyprus as a punishment for rebellion. Notably, the Ramazan family were a branch of the Köseli clan and today there is still a family by the name of Köseli living in the settlement area. In another document, an order is sent to the governor of Hamiteli to exile the rebel Karahacı to Cyprus. Even today, in the area in which he was settled, when knocking on someone’s door at night, if one is asked Who’s there?”, it is tradition to say “Karahacı” to scare the hosts.


A family tree of Turkmen clans descending from Oğuz Khan (click to enlarge)

By the end of the sixteenth century, 8,000 families had been settled in Cyprus, short of the planned 12,000. It is clear that most of these families were Turkmens as a document found in the Ottoman Archives states that only “Turks and Muslims” could be settled in Cyprus (Turk of course referring to Turkmen nomads). Dr. Cengiz Orhunlu, author of the book Ottoman Settlement Policy, wrote that the Turkmens of Karamania were indeed settled to Cyprus by force. According to another author, Dr. Faruk Sümer, the ancestors of the Turkish Cypriots were the Turkmens of Çukurova. This was the first wave.


After the second Ottoman retreat from Vienna, it became clear to the Ottoman administrators that the empire was suffering due to a lack of tax income. In order to increase tax revenue and agricultural production, an order was issued in 1699 to settle all nomadic Turkmen tribes to Cyprus. Thus began the second wave of migration. Consequently, the Turkmen tribes rebelled against this decision and their protests continued up until 1856, but by 1745 many had already been forcibly settled in Cyprus. In this period, around 2,500 new families had been settled from the Beğdili, Bayat, Avşar, Kaçar and Bozdoğan tribes. As it is known the first three are from the Bozoklar branch and the fourth is from the Üçoklar branch of Oğuz Turks.


The second wave was completed as follows: From the Beğdili tribe the Şamlu/Dımışklı clan (otherwise known in Iran as the Şahseven, Hüdabendelü, Aynallu or Karagözlü). From the Avşar tribe the Bentoğlu and Köroğlu clans. From the Kaçar tribe the Kaçar Halil clan, from the Bozdoğan tribe the Karahacılı clan. From the Yüreğir branch of the Bayat tribe the Gediklü clan. From the Kayı tribe the Karakeçili clan.


Avşar tribe                                Bayat tribe                          Beğdili tribe   
Kayı tribe                                Kınık tribe                          Yüreğir tribe
In these two waves, around 50,000 Turkmens were settled on the island, mainly in the provinces of Mesaria and Mesoto, which were left unoccupied after the Latin exodus from Cyprus and due to their similarities with the landscapes of Cental Asia. Until the twentieth century, they occupied themselves with shepherding sheep and camel flocks, without taking much interest in agriculture. Just as their ancestors had done in Anatolia and Syria, the Turkmens of Cyprus rebelled against the Ottoman Empire on many occassions. This continued until recently when the trend of nationalism took over causing them to consider themselves as modern Turks. However, even today some Turkish Cypriots insist on maintaining a special identity seperate to that of the Turks of modern Turkey.

Perhaps it is fair to argue that neither of these viewpoints are particularly incorrect. Living on a small island in villages within close proximity of each other, as well as being isolated from the developments in the Ottoman Empire's mainland provided Turkish Cypriots the chance to preserve their old way of life in Anatolia and Syria. Until the onset of the age of nationalism, they maintained their nomadic lifestyle. In other words, whereas other communities gradually changed over time, due to their lack of integration with mainstream Ottoman society, the Turkish Cypriots experienced no change in their culture since their days in Chorasan and Maveraünnehir until they made a sudden jump to nationalism.

Turkish Cypriots have maintained their folkloric Turkmen traditions
Today, when discussing Turkish Cypriot identity, one of the first issues raised is the spoken dialect. The Turkish Cypriot dialect is very close to the dialect used in Dede Korkut stories from the twelfth century. Furthermore, Turkish Cypriots use many words from the old Turkmen language, much of which has been forgotten in the modern standard Istanbul Turkish. Sentence structure also strikes more similarity with the old Turkmen dialect than Istanbul Turkish. Therefore a Turkish Cypriot can easily understand the dialect of somebody from Azerbeijan, Kerkük, Merv, Aşkabat or any other Turkmen province. Many of the old folkloric beliefs are also alive in Turkish Cypriot culture today, such as the cult of ancestors, the cult of sacred trees, the cult of smoke, the cult of fire and water, so on and so forth. Any researcher can easily find links between these and old Shamanistic traditions. For example, the avoidance of cutting hair or nails at night, or even the belief in Albasması is still very popular amongst Turkish Cypriots. The tradition of celebrating Nevruz is still in practice in some villages today and is instead called “Mart Dokuzu”. In summary, the folkloric culture of Turkish Cypriots is almost identical to the folkloric culture of Turkmenistan. Another example can be found in wedding ceremony traditions, as well as the musical instrument, which up until very recently in Cyprus was referred to as the Dilli Düdük, whereas in Anatolia it is called the Kaval or the Ney.


by Dr. Nazim Beratli
Translated from Turkish by Ertan Karpazli
Maps provided by www.anadoluasiretleri.com



Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Ancient and Modern History of Muslims in Cyprus

In the tenth century the majority of Turkic peoples accepted Islam, and from them were raised many great empires including the Seljuks, the Mamluks, the Ottomans and many more. This mass conversion of Turks from their old religions of Shamanism and Tengriism, only a century after they ransacked the Muslim Abbasid capital of Baghdad, opened the gates for Islam to much of Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Most notably, this featured the conquering of what was then the capital of Byzantium, the city of Constantinople (Istanbul), by Fatih Sultan Mehmet II in 1453. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) foretold this event almost 900 years before it even took place when he said, "Verily you shall conquer Constantinople. What a wonderful leader will her leader be, and what a wonderful army will that army be!" Similarly, the conquest of Cyprus by the Muslims was also an event revealed to the Prophet in a dream many years before it happened. The prophesy reads as follows:


Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque, Larnaca
Whenever Allah's Apostle went to Quba, he used to visit Umm Harram bint Milhan who would offer him meals; and she was the wife of 'Ubada bin As-Samit. One day he went to her house and she offered him a meal, and after that he slept, and then woke up smiling. She (Umm Harram) said, "I asked him, 'What makes you laugh, O Allah's Apostle?" He said, "Some people of my followers were displayed before me as warriors fighting for Allah's Cause and sailing over this sea, like kings on thrones." I (Umm Harram) said, "O Allah's Apostle! Invoke Allah that He may make me one of them." He invoked (Allah) for her and then lay his head and slept again and then woke up smiling. I (Umm Harram) asked, "What makes you laugh, O Allah's Apostle?" He said, "Some people of my followers were displayed before me as warriors fighting for Allah's Cause and sailing over this sea, like kings on the thrones." I (Umm Harram) said, "O Allah's Apostle! Invoke Allah that He may make me one of them." He said, "You will be amongst the first ones."


This dream became reality when the Muslims made their first conquest under the command of Mu’awiyah, sent forth by the third Caliph Uthman in 649, capturing parts of the island to be used as a military base protecting Syria. It was in this expedition that the Prophet’s foster-aunty Umm Harram was martyred. Her grave is in the city of Larnaca, at the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque, which is to this day still considered as one of the most important sites in the Muslim world. Additionally, the bodies of seven Arab Muslim martyrs from this conflict were also found miraculously well preserved in a cave on the coast close to the northern city of Kyrenia in the mid-sixteenth century, where the Hazreti Omer Mosque in now located. It is said that the near one thousand-year-old corpses appeared as if they were just sleeping when they were found. Furthermore, in light of recently emerged evidence, it is commonly believed that the grave of the companion Urwah ibn Thabit is located in a sealed chamber in the Apostolos Andreas Monastery in the Karpas peninsula. After the death of Uthman, Cyprus was part and parcel of the breakaway Sham district of the Islamic Caliphate under the jurisprudence of Mu’awiyah, who later became the fifth Caliph after Ali and went on to form the Umayyad Dynasty based in Damascus, Syria. The following 300 years was spent in a power struggle between the Umayyads and the Byzantines, with each empire maintaining its bases in different parts of the island. This continued until the resurging Christian western powers gained victory in Cyprus and thus began using it as a stepping-stone in its crusades to the Holy Lands.


The Ottoman conquest of Limassol
In 1192, the Crusader King Richard the Lionheart who had invaded Cyprus a year earlier on behalf of England, gave the island to the French Lusignans. After some strife within the Lusignan royal family, Cyprus became a protectorate of the Turkish Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt in 1426. The subdued Lusignans assisted the Mamluks in routing out pirates from the Egyptian shores and also allowed them to use Cyprus as a naval base in their conquest of Rhodes. It wasn’t until 1489 that a Venetian invasion wrestled the island out of Mamluk control. However, Venetian domination was only to last a mere 80 years as Ottoman Sultan Selim II sent his troops to Cyprus as a protective measure against Venetian and Maltese pirates who were obstructing sea trade routes in the Eastern Mediterranean. The conflict was long and bloody to say the least, with the majority of native Greek-speaking Cypriots opting to support the Muslim Turks instead of their fellow Christians from Venice. The native Orthodox population of Cyprus had become bitter after almost a century of living in slavery and oppression at the hands of the Catholic Venetians. In 1571, the conquest was completed with an Ottoman victory in Famagusta, thus freeing the island from Venetian control. In the many months of fighting, some 80,000 Ottoman soldiers had been martyred, including the military head of the Halep district of Kilis, Canbulad Bey, whose courage and self-sacrifice allowed his regiment a way into the walled city. The General of the Turkish army Lala Mustafa Pasha ensured safety and security to all except for the defender of Famagusta, Marco Antonio Bragadin, who was punished for his notorious killing of Muslim pilgrims passing by Cyprus on their journeys to and from Mekkah.


Most Latins, who had enjoyed many privileges under Venetian rule at the expense of the Greek Cypriots, fled the island after the Ottoman conquest. The few that remained behind saw a reversal in social order with themselves being reduced to servitude while the Greek Cypriots became free citizens. There were, however, many Christians who converted to Islam including seventeen Christian notables as well as twelve Catholic families from Famagusta. Moreover, inter-marriages between Turkish Muslim men and Greek Christian women were not at all uncommon, with the trend being that the Greek woman would adopt the religion of her husband. Marriages between Greek Christian men and Turkish Muslim women were very rare due to its impressibility according to the Islamic Shariah law. However, a small minority of Christian men, estimated in an 1830s report to number about 5000 all together, would falsely profess Islam in order to marry Turkish women, whilst secretly practicing Christianity at home. Other advantages included in this was freedom from having to pay the Jizya Tax, which was compulsory on every Zimmi (Jew or Christian living in Muslim land), which would guarantee their protection by the Muslims in the case of any foreign attack. This group, called the Linopambaki, continued to practice this deception until the Shariah law in Cyprus was abolished. Nonetheless, all these converts regardless of whether they were genuine or not, were given full and equal rights as every other Muslim on the island.


With many homes and farms abandoned, and the island under-populated after this exodus of Latins back to Venice, the new Ottoman government first gave Greek Cypriots in Venice the priority to return home. Following this, all surplus properties were distributed among some single, young Ottoman soldiers who were to remain behind. Wives from Anatolia were sent over to these soldier villages in order to create permanent family settlements. Furthermore, one in ten families from various districts in Anatolia including Konya, Karaman, Yozgat, Mersin and Kahramanmaraş (to name a few) were selected to set up new lives on the island as a way to boost its Muslim presence. These were generally skilled workers and the socially disadvantaged, such as the unemployed and owners of barren land. Each family was given a home, a farm and was exempted from paying taxes for two years as a reward for their co-operation. The vast majority of migrants were Turkmen adherents to Sunni Islam, although there is evidence to suggest some adherents to the Kızılbaş branch of Shia Islam also accompanied them. Prior to there arrival, however, there were already Muslim inhabitants of the island - mainly Sudanese and Arab slaves who always had a presence in Cyprus due to it being a common slave-trade route into Europe. Not much is known about these Cypriot Muslims, but it is believed they were mainly concentrated on the south coast where crops are typical of African agriculture and this also remained the case up until the nineteenth century. Furthermore, a seventeenth century Cypriot Muslim scholar by the name of Edib Ahmed bin Şahin el-Kıbrısi el-Dimaşki was the son of a Cypriot Muslim slave who was adopted and later freed by a Turkish family after the conquest. Nonetheless, these new Anatolian Turkmen migrants came to be known as the Turkish Cypriots, and they thrived on the island for centuries, many of them becoming rich landowners. Over time, the Sudanese and Arab Muslim Cypriots also acquired the Turkish language and became integrated into the Turkish Cypriot community too. 

The Turkish and Greek communities mostly lived in peace until a Greek rebellion, originating in Greece, spread to the island in 1821. It all began in 1804 when both Turkish and Greek Cypriots gathered to protest in the capital Nicosia against the lack of wheat supplied by the Ottoman government. Greek Cypriot representatives were sent to Istanbul on a trip paid for by the Archbishop at the time, supposedly to petition the Sultan for more wheat. The real intention behind the visit, however, was one much different to that which was stated. Instead, Ottoman auxiliary forces were called to repress the uprising, in which a highly disproportionate number of Turkish Cypriots were killed compared to their Greek counterparts. Later, in 1809, Archimandrite Kyprianos, who was responsible for this unjust implementation of force, was elected as the new Archbishop of Cyprus. Clearly a man with a hidden agenda, he began to use the religion of Christianity as a way to preach Greek nationalism to his subjects, and it was he who was the first person to start the calls for enosis (Hellenic union with Greece) on the island. His treacherousness against the Ottoman Empire resulted in his execution along with the rest of the Greek Orthodox upper-hierarchy. After this, relations between the two communities became strained, as it became clear that in contrast to the Muslim Turks, the Greek Cypriots had established their support in favour of their co-religionists against the slowly depleting Ottoman Empire. Recognition of an independent Greece in 1832 inspired Greek populations in the Aegean and Mediterranean further in their desire to revive Pan-Hellenism.



Turkish Cypriot Grand Vezir Mehmet Emin Pasha
It wasn’t until the seventeenth century when the Ottoman army lost an offensive on Venice that the Turks realised they were not invincible, and it could be argued, the surprising ease with which the French were able to take Egypt away from them in the late eighteenth century was the first foot in the grave. Enemies were closing in on Anatolia, the power base of the Ottoman Empire, from the directions of Russia and the Balkans. Finding a common enemy in Russia, the British lent the Ottomans funds and resources to fight off the Russians in the Crimean War of 1855, a war over which the Turkish Cypriot Grand Vezir (Prime Minister) of the Empire, Mehmet Emin Pasha, was dismissed after objecting to it. Unfortunately for the Turks, they were defeated once again, and this time rendered with unlimited debts that they had no way of paying back. As a result, in 1877, the Ottoman Empire declared bankruptcy. 


The British, however, certainly were not happy to receive this news. Threatened by Austrian-Russian plans to create a pan-Slavic state in Eastern Europe, the British were in fear of having their route from the Mediterranean to British occupied India being cut off. It is for this reason that in 1878, the Ottomans and British agreed to the Cyprus Convention, which allowed the British to temporarily occupy Cyprus for an indefinite period of time whilst keeping it under Ottoman sovereignty. That way, the British could establish a power base in the Middle-East, thus protecting their cross-continent trade route. Therefore, with immediate affect, for the first time in seven centuries since King Richard the Lionheart occupied the island to support the Christian crusades to Palestine, Cyprus once again found itself under English administration.

The Greek Cypriots were pretty much unfazed by the change of government, as the Millet system of the Ottoman Empire allowed them to live in autonomy under the instruction of the Orthodox Church. If anything, they were encouraged by the new Christian leadership, raising their hopes that they would hand over the island to Greece. The Turkish Cypriots, however, whose security depended entirely on that of the Ottoman Empire, were left leaderless and disorientated with their central base of organisation having been taken away. Shortly after the British arrived, they quickly introduced electoral politics, something which the Turkish Cypriots held in great suspicion at most as they had been living their lives under Sharia law for hundreds of years even before they settled in Cyprus. Democracy, originally an Ancient Greek concept, to them was something alien. The Greek Cypriots, on the other hand, took to it like ducks to water, which consequently gave them a head start in the beginning stages of the new order. They saw themselves excelling to positions of influence and prestige, making vast gains financially and intellectually, whilst the Turkish islanders lagged behind. Thus began the slippery slope, which would soon lead them into becoming second-class citizens. It is no wonder, therefore, that in 1911, Turkish Cypriot political activist Musevvidsade Osman Cemal Efendi wrote, “It should be regarded as the greatest form of bad luck and it is the greatest form of ill-fate for an Ottoman to enter and live under the administration of a foreign state.”



According to the original British intention behind occupying Cyprus, there was no reason for them to even be there for more than three years, as they were quick to realise the island was not as great a military base as they had hoped, due to its lack of deep-water harbours capable of supporting a naval fleet. Within just a year, top admirals such as James Hope were being quoted as saying, “The best thing…to do is after a few years to hand it (Cyprus) over to the Greeks.” Especially since the British also occupied the island’s southern neighbour Egypt in 1881, which did have the deep-water harbours they were looking for, the thought of handing it back to the Ottoman Empire did cross a few minds. However, the Christian voice inside them made the British reluctant to hand what was a largely Christian country over to an infidel administration. Therefore, it appears as though they found the idea of heavily taxing the peasants of Cyprus as a way to pay back the Ottoman debts of 1855 a much holier alternative. Both Muslims and Christians were subject to this tax, which continued to be paid well after Cyprus had been annexed as a Crown Colony in 1927. As a result, life on the island became unbearable for the peasants who, after taxation, barely had enough left to survive. Nevertheless, the nature of the tax was kept a secret in order to avoid a peasant’s revolt.


Ali Hüseyin Babaliki
In the meantime, the Turkish Muslims of Cyprus tried desperately on many occasions to reach out to their mainland Turkish brothers in the name of Islam, setting up associations and charities. Cemaat-i Islam Teşkilatı was founded to collect contributions for the Ottoman Navy in 1913. In 1920, Muhacirin-i Islamiyeye Yardım Cemiyeti was set up to help Muslim refugees, and in 1925 the Kıbrıs Türk Cemaat-i Islamiyesi was also established by the Grand Mufti of Cyprus Hacı Hafız Ziyai Efendi. Even a pan-Islamist newspaper called Dik-ul-Sharq was being printed for the native Arabic speakers on the island, who were then three times more in number than English speakers. Leading the way in these attempts was a young man from the town of Kaleburnu by the name of Ali Hüseyin Babaliki. He joined an underground resistance organisation called the Türkiye Birleştirme Örgütü, seeking means of reuniting Cyprus with Turkey, who were also behind an attempt to rescue Turkish prisoners of war who were being held in what is today the Gülseren military camp in Magosa, after being taken by attacking British forces from the Gallipoli campaign. However, the British imprisoned him in Kyrenia castle where he shared a prison cell with Imam Mustafa Nuri Efendi. In 1925, Babaliki passed away behind bars at the age of just forty after suffering from a long illness. According to an issue of the Söz Newspaper published on Boxing Day of 1926, his untimely death was undoubtedly due to the poor, humid and inhumane conditions of the prison. However, further reports speculate that the British may have played a more direct role in his death, suggesting that he was slowly assassinated with foreign substances that were being placed in his food. Indeed life was tough for any Turkish Cypriot who showed any form of allegiance to the Ottoman state. Many prisoners died behind bars with nobody to give them a proper Islamic funeral. Many Turkish prisoners of war captured by the British in the Battle of Gallipoli had been transferred to what is now the Gulseren military camp in Famagusta, where they were later to be killed.


Turkey, in this time period was suffering from too many problems of its own to concern itself with others. It was losing a lot of ground from all sides, with Britain, who was once its only ally, now on the offensive against them. In 1913, the city of Thessaloniki had fallen to Greece, which caused the British to reconsider its relationship with Turkey; now believing it was the wrong horse to bet on. By allying itself with Greece, who could be used to protect its interests in the straits, Greek Cypriots became overjoyed and more hopeful for enosis than ever when they saw the formation of a new British-Greek naval co-operation. As the British moved towards this newfound friendship, the Turks also moved to ally themselves with Germany at the start of the First World War. This turn of tides culminated in 1915 with the British Empire launching an attack on the Turkish shores of Gallipoli, in which Turkish military commander Mustafa Kemal first made a name for himself as he participated in forcing the foreign invaders to retreat. However, despite losing the battle, the British were still determined to win the war by spurring an Arab revolt in the following year, thus squeezing the Turks out of the Hejaz peninsula and handing power over to Arab nationalist Sharif Hussain. Ironically, Sharif Hussain was later exiled to Cyprus once British support shifted to the Saudi royal family, and it is reported that he spent his days on the island wondering the streets weeping out of regret for betraying the Ottoman Empire. Meanwhile, the disheartened Turkish Cypriot community watched on helplessly as the Ottoman Empire entered into civil war and an identity crisis.

It took the same man who rose in status during the Gallipoli campaign, Mustafa Kemal, to unite Anatolia under the Young Turks movement. The Marxist/Leninist Revolution in Russia in 1917 eventually resulted in a Russian retreat from Eastern Anatolia, thus ending a near 150 year old war and allowing Turks room to breathe. In 1923, they removed the powerless Sultan Mehmet VI Vahdettin from office, replaced Islamic Shariah Law with the Swiss Civil Code, and declared Mustafa Kemal as president of the new Republic of Turkey. The Turkish Cypriots had until this time looked upon Young Turk exiles with a degree of mistrust. They were seen as radicals trying to overthrow the Sultan and Westernise Turkey. Having always attempted to reach out to Turkey on religious lines first and foremost, the new secular order presented them with a problem in this regard. They had already witnessed the failings of the Turks of Western Thrace, who had tried to establish their own republic three times, go without Turkey’s help due to their refusal to adopt a secular identity in place of an Islamic one. Moreover, the Turkish Cypriots were fearful of suffering the same fate as their Turkish brothers in Crete, who had been forced out of the island after it joined with Greece. Consequently, the Turkish Cypriots, realising they could no longer trust the British, felt themselves with no choice but to begin seeking assistance from Turkey on a nationalistic agenda. No doubt, the British aided this process of secularisation when they abolished the position of Grand Mufti of Cyprus in 1928, replacing him with a more compliant ‘Fetva Emini’. The properties of the Evkaf (Muslim Pious Foundation) were seized, and Imam schools were allowed to slowly decline until none existed.


With the Evkaf in British hands, many Turkish Cypriots became impoverished and those who had the ability to leave for the new land of promise which was Turkey. Furthermore, coalmining sites set up by the British provided many job opportunities for Greek Cypriots, and with the Great Famine hitting Greece in the 1940s, Greek families migrated to the island in large numbers seeking work. This altered the demographics of the island drastically. Although the Greek Cypriots experienced no such tampering with their religious institutions, they somehow still saw no contradiction between their faith and belief in Greek nationalism. This was even beginning to cause them to grow in resentment towards their fellow Christians, the British, whose mismanagement of the islands economy caused mass-poverty in the early 1930s. Rather untimely, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Snowdon, revealed the truth behind the excessive taxation in Cyprus, which caused uproar amongst its natives. Alexis Kyrou, a Greek consul, took advantage of the situation to stir nationalist feeling within his people. The Government House was burned down by rioters, which lead to Governor Storrs taking a more authoritarian stance on the island. British reinforcements were called over from Egypt to enforce a curfew, with mass arrests and exiles also taking place. These events lead up to the PEK (Pancyprian Agranian Union) being founded by wealthy Greek Cypriot communists, which would later open the doors for the formation of the armed group EOKA.

After the Second World War, restrictions on enosis supporters in Cyprus became relaxed, and many exiles returned including Archbishop Makarios II who, in 1953, uttered the famous words, “We shall rise, go up against and fight to win one thing and only one thing – enosis and only enosis.” His successor Makarios III also continued with the call for enosis, but since Greece along with Turkey were now a part of NATO and on good terms, this call was not officially responded to. However, one particular ex-general from Greece, Georgios Grivas, did respond when he arrived in Cyprus, bringing with him an air of war. It was certainly no coincidence that in time with his arrival, a ship named the Ayios Georgios was seized by British forces near the village Chlorakas, found to be packed full of weapons and ammunition. This stirred Turkish Cypriot protests throughout the island, fearing the threat of violence. Not before long, this nightmare became a reality when Grivas and his men launched a wave of explosions, one of which destroyed a British broadcasting station.



Dr. Fazıl Kuçuk and Rauf Denktaş
Under the pressing circumstances, in reaction to the Greek nationalist EOKA, the Turkish Cypriots formed their own nationalist resistance army TMT in 1958, lead by Dr. Fazıl Küçük and right-hand man Rauf Denktaş. By then, the Turkish Cypriots had already moved far away from their traditional way of life, adopting the mainland born Kemalism ideology as their own. The 1940s saw the Latinisation of the previously Arabic lettered Turkish alphabet in Cyprus, and the rejection of being referred to as Muslim Cypriots. Instead, they chose to be identified as Turkish Cypriots, and this new identity even included Muslims of African and Arab origin. With this new conformity to the reforms in Turkey, TMT was able to secure weapons and training to be given to their new recruits in preparation for what seemed to be an imminent conflict. Strangely, however, it was at the moment when tensions in Cyprus could not have been higher between the Turks and the Greeks, that the British began to arrange their departure from the island, which was to eventually be achieved in 1960.

By the late 1950s, due to the complicated situation of the love-hate relationship between the British, Greece and Turkey, Archbishop Makarios III realised that enosis with Greece was at that time unrealistic, so he began to compaign for Cyprus to released as an independent state free from British occupation. Many plans were presented before the Greek Cypriots between 1956 and 1958 for a shared government with the Turks, all of which they rejected apart from one which allowed them to have enosis with Greece in exchange for allowing Turkey to have some military bases on the island. This, however, was of course rejected by the Turks. Meanwhile, Greeks in the United States of America began lobbying politicians to put pressure on Britain to allow the islands unification with Greece to take place, but Britain was able to convince the US of the importance of not offending Turkey due to its hosting of American military bases in the country. Therefore, the Greek Cypriots were left with no other option but to agree to a joint Turkish-Greek administration of an independent Cyprus, of which 99 square miles would be given to Britain as a military base. Turkish and Greek presidents were to alternate every two years, with Archbishop Makarios III having the first term. Georgios Grivas was to be safely deported back to his native land Greece, where he would receive a hero’s welcome from his people. Britain, Greece and Turkey were to all act a guarantors of peace. Despite only being 20% of the islands population, the Turkish Cypriots were to be assigned 30% of public service jobs and 40% of military posts. In the eyes of Greek Cypriots, this was too much of a privilage. Nonetheless, the agreements were signed by all parties, and in 1960, after 82 years of occupation, the British finally left.



Even the children of Sandallar were not spared by EOKA terrorists
However, the calls for enosis still had not ceased, and with the British out of the way, it did not take long for EOKA to begin the onslaught on the defenceless Turkish Cypriot community. They were not satisfied with Makarios III’s compromise for a shared, independent state, so their first obstacle was dealing with the supporters of the newly established regime. Whenever news of a Turk being killed broke out, Turkish resistance group TMT were never hesistant to react in revenge. However, their capability to defend the Turkish Cypriots as a whole was very much limited due to their relatively small number and lack of arms. This tit for tat warfare continued for eleven years between 1963 and 1974, without any outside intervention, claiming the lives of many innocent people. The violence peaked when hundreds of Turkish Cypriots, mostly women, children and elderly, were massacred and buried in mass graves in the villages of Atlılar, Sandallar and Muratağa. Other famous acts of genocide included the finding of over a dozen Turkish Cypriot heads in a waste bin in Nicosia, as well as what is today known as Bloody Noel, where Mürüvet Ilhan and her young children were found bludgeoned to death in their bathtub at their home in Dereboyu. Furthermore, as many as 20,000 Turkish Cypriots were forced to leave their homes and live as refugees. At the rate events were unfolding, the ethnic cleansing of Turkish Cypriots was about to be the worst genocide to take place since the Nazi holocaust of the Jews in Germany. All the while, Turkey, with itself being bullied away from using its right as a guarantor of Cyprus, helplessly watched on.

However, it was when EOKA leader Nicos Sampson spear-headed a military coup against the official government in 1974, that Turkey could not watch on passively any longer. In July of that year, Turkey leaders Bülent Ecevit and Necmettin Erbakan approved of an air and ground offensive against EOKA targets on the island, thus defeating its enemy once and for all and setting up its power in the northern territories of the island. For the security of the Turkish minorities remaining in the south, particularly around Larnaca and Limassol, a population transfer was arranged. Those from Larnaca were swapped over with Greeks in what is today called Iskele, and Turks from Limassol were exchanged with Greeks from Morphou, otherwise known as Güzelyurt.


Turkey was immediately condemned by the international community for what they deemed as a barbaric invasion of Cyprus, even though Turkey was only exercising its right as a guarantor. Consequently, the Turkish Cypriots came under embargoes, forcing them into international isolation. Nonetheless, in 1983, under the presidency of Rauf Denktaş, the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus was declared. Again, the international community refused to recognise its independence, and continued to refer to it as being an illegally occupied territory of the Republic of Cyprus. Today, mainland Turkish forces still ensure the security of the Turkish Cypriots in the TRNC, which to date is still unrecognised by anyone except Turkey.


In 2004, after three decades of negotiations, a referendum was held, giving the islanders the right to decide whether or not they wanted to reunite Cyprus. The vast majority of Turkish Cypriots, who due to their international isolation were by then fed up with living in conditions of poverty, agreed to do so. On the other hand, the Greek Cypriots largely voted no to what was called the Annan Plan, and as a result the entire island entered the European Union under the banner of the Republic of Cyprus. Despite many promises to the Turkish Cypriots of recognition for their country if they voted yes on the referendum, even if the Greek Cypriots declined, went unfulfilled. Neither the government, flag nor passports of the Turkish Cypriots became officially recognised, nor did Turkey's right to remain in the north become deemed as lawful. European Union membership brought with it new laws. One such law, which states everybody has the right to return to their old home, became an issue for Turkish Cypriot property developers on what was once Greek Cypriot land. This was highlighted in the Oram’s case of 2005, when an English family who bought property in the TRNC were ordered by the Republic of Cyprus court in the south to demolish their home due to it being on formerly Greek land. However, a UK court decision allowing the Oram's to keep their home was made in 2006, only to be overruled in 2009 by the EU court of law. Although this ruling has primarily hit British expatriates in the TRNC, many natives to the island fear EU laws may result in them losing their homes which they purchased. Turkish military presence in the north leaves this situation locked at a stalemate, but in the case of their retreat and a unification of the island, this could mean entire Turkish towns and villages may be evacuated.


Today, discussions continue between Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders about reuniting the island as a federal state with two autonomies existing within it. However, countless snags, often around the same topics, continuously bring negotiations back to square one. Issues regarding the expulsion of the mainland Turkish army from the north are a cause for concern for the Turkish Cypriots, who for 38 years have depended on them for protection. A common topic of disagreement is whether a new federal state ensuring the north/south divide should be implemented or whether the two populations should return to their pre-1974 positions. The latter would severely disadvantage the Turks as it would leave them divided and weak. However, changing to a federal state presents the problem of ejection of the island from the European Union, leaving it with no choice but to re-apply for membership. Therefore, the Greek Cypriots who understandably do not want to give up their new status as European citizens after having just achieved it, are calling for the Turkish Cypriots in the north to become a part of the already existing co-established republic based on the old 1960 constitution. With the Greek Cypriot officials constantly uttering rhetoric, making conditions for the Turkish districts of Morphou and Karpas to be handed over to them, and the talk of enosis still murmuring amongst the Greek Cypriot masses, one begins to wonder if the reunification of Cyprus is possible, or even, recommendable.


The moment Turkish-Western relations turned for the worse. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's
(left) "One Minute" gesture to the Israeli President at the 2009 DAVOS conference
In 2012, the Republic of Cyprus will also take over the EU presidency, a move Turkey clearly detests whilst the Cyprus problem lingers on. Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has threatened to boycott peace talks should the Republic of Cyprus accept presidency. This comes in addition to joint oil expedition agreements signed between the Republic of Cyprus and Israel, another country that is experiencing a weakening relationship with Turkey. Turkey argues that this joint expedition in the Eastern Mediterranean is an infringement on the rights of the Turkish Cypriots and shows a lack of sincerity on behalf of the Greek Cypriot government in their desire to bring a solution to the island. As a result, Turkey has threatened to commence banned oil drilling in the waters between North Cyprus and Turkey in retaliation. Should peace talks cease, it is possible that Turkey will seek recognition for North Cyprus via means other than the West, or perhaps even attempt to annex the north to itself. Changing politics in the region after the “Arab Spring” revolts as well as constantly shifting patterns in the economic world could indeed present Turkey with the opportunity to realistically achieve this in the near future.

For now, however, the Turkish Cypriot Muslims of the island, still continue to do what they have done since the 1878 British occupation – that is watch and wait helplessly for the assurance of their future.

By Ertan Karpazli